Legal Ethics Opinion #1536

Conflict of Interest - Confidences and Secrets - Former Client:
Attorney's Former Law Firm Represents Defendant in Personal
Injury Case: Attorney's Spouse Employed By Insurance Carrier

You have presented a hypothetical situation in which Attorney A
was previously employed by Law Firm B and handled insurance
defense cases and coverage issues for Law Firm's client,
Insurance Company C.  Attorney A later left Law Firm B and
started his own law practice.

You indicate that Attorney A is now representing Client D in a
personal injury action against a defendant who is insured by
Insurance Company C.  Law Firm B is defending the case.

You advise that Attorney A is familiar with the operation of
Insurance Company C, not only because of his past employment with
Law Firm B but also because his wife was, and is currently, a
supervisor-employee of Insurance Company C with access to all
claim files involving the same claim of Client D that is the
subject matter of the personal injury action.  Attorney A's
spouse also has access to other claim files and information
regarding the defendant, who is the insured of Insurance Company
C.  This information would include past claims, accident reports,
and past repair estimates, as well as information and opinions
supplied by Law Firm B on the merits of all claims handled by
that firm, including the defense of the personal injury action in

You have asked the committee to opine whether, under the facts of
the inquiry, (1) Attorney A may continue representation of Client
D since he formerly represented Insurance Company C while
employed by Law Firm B; and (2) whether Attorney A may continue
to represent Client D, considering Attorney A's spouse's 
employment by Insurance Company C.

The appropriate and controlling Disciplinary Rules related to
your inquiry are DRs 4-101(B) which provides that a lawyer shall
not knowingly use or reveal a confidence or secret of his client;
and 5-105(D) which states that a lawyer who has represented a
client in a matter shall not thereafter represent another person
in the same or substantially related matter if the interest of
that person is adverse in any material respect to the interest of
the former client unless the former client consents after

The committee directs your attention to prior Legal Ethics
Opinion #598, approved by the Virginia Supreme Court effective
June l, l985, which concluded that "the client of an insurance
carrier's [in-house] employee attorney is the insured, not the
insurance carrier".  The committee is of the view that such
delineation of the client is equally applicable when the
insurance company engages outside counsel to represent its
insured.  The committee is of the opinion that Attorney A's
familiarity with the general operation of Insurance Company C
does not constitute a confidence or secret as envisioned by DR 4-
l0l since there was no attorney-client relationship between
Attorney A and Insurance Company C.  Thus, the committee opines
that, unless the current matter is the same or substantially
related to specific matters in which Attorney A, while employed
by Law Firm B, previously represented other insureds who are now
adverse to Client D, there is no impropriety in Attorney A
continuing to represent Client D.

As to your inquiry regarding A's spouse who, as employee of
Insurance Company C, has access to all claim files involving both
D's current claim and other claim files and information regarding
the defendant, the committee opines that, assuming Attorney A had
no knowledge of information his spouse may have learned as an
employee of C, A would not be precluded from continuing his
representation of D.  See LEO #1481.

Committee Opinion
June 22, 1993